Thursday, April 05, 2012

Why I am leaving Mumbai, and why I will never leave...

The journey which began with a leisure trip to India in December 2005 has come to an end; today is my last day in Mumbai (or, Bombay to the faithful). My trip to this land and city started initially as a two year stint with a hotel investment firm. I came to India to help usher in a new era of institutional hotel development and investment in a part of the world that badly needed it. End corruption, fix infrastructure, improve market efficiency, increase transparency -- those were the goals I thought I could promote. In short, I wanted to change India. In the end, India changed me much more.

When I moved to Mumbai, I was a disaffected corporate lawyer from Boston seeking a thrilling new professional avatar.  I had lived in a variety of American cities -- but never in India.  As I look back at my first few days, weeks, and months in Mumbai, I chuckle at the rookie mistakes I made (my expense reports from China House are just the tip of the iceberg).  Because Bombay is a functioning dysfunctional cosmopolitan city, those mistakes are inevitable and valuable. I feel as if the city forces you to get things wrong before you are blessed with getting them right. The bigger the first mistake, the better the final outcome.

As a child, when mom dragged me to Mumbai to visit my relatives, I'd count the days until I could return home. That has changed. As an adult, having now spent more time in Mumbai in one stretch than in any other city since before law school, I can't ignore the amazing magnetism that this city exudes.  This isn't New York, Paris, Milan, San Francisco, or Boston. No, folks, Bombay is a different breed of animal. This city amazes you because it can be poor and rich, beautiful and ugly, harsh and kind -- all at the same time.  In Mumbai, an emaciated homeless man at the fringe of humanity finds shelter under an overpass adjacent to the Rolls Royce dealership.

So, why am I leaving? After losing my aunt this January to lung cancer and watching her yearlong battle, I decided I needed to make wholesale changes to my life. Months away from my parents at a stretch had to become weeks away. Corporate bureaucracy had to become start-up efficiency. A life of excess had to transform into a life filled with value and values. My new company's first two major projects are based in Goa, which is a 45 minute flight from Bombay. Having considered and seriously contemplated working from Mumbai, I realized that moving to be with my team would allow me to be more efficient and squeeze more time to be in the US with friends and family. Having made the painful decision to leave, I started to reflect on what lessons Bombay provided me.

Bombay has taught me more than I can write in this short piece. It has taught me about the vibrancy and energy of people both strong and weak; the power of good friendships and the danger of bad ones; to follow my passions and embrace my fears; that Indians like to drink and can't really drive; that white folks love to dance to Bollywood; that while divorce might be rarer than in the West, cheating isn't; that commuting more than a few minutes each day is generally wasteful to life; that while clubs may close earlier than in New York, the nightlife doesn't; to crave Holi and enjoy Goa; and to be thankful I don't live in Delhi. While there may be no single unified theory of this place, it is the third rail of metropolitan cities.

I leave behind some of the closest friends I have ever had the fortune to meet. While distance and time do filter out the friendships too weak to handle them, I know that I have met an incredible group of amazing people with whom I shall hope to share many years of meaningful experiences. Most of them, like me, came to Mumbai seeking something. The came, they stayed, they shared, and they lived. Thank you to all of you who are part of that group for enriching my life beyond imagination.

While it is true that I'm leaving Bombay today, I doubt that it will ever leave me. Goodbye for now, dear friend.